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Sports illustrator Ted Watts honored at PSU

With more than 40 years of experience, legendary sports illustrator from Oswego, Kansas Ted Watts will be celebrated with a virtual and in-person exhibit at Pittsburg State University.  

Watts spent most of his career bringing athletes and coaches to life on paper with more than 6,000 pieces of finished art produced.  

“Ted Watts was very passionate, not only within his community in Oswego, but where he grew up in Miami, Oklahoma and the Pittsburg community,” said Janette Mauk, special collections library specialist. “He started as a sports journalist for the Coffeyville Journal and somewhere along the lines he happened to draw a sports cartoon and then it just blossomed from there.” 

In 1966, Watts earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Pittsburg State University. He was renowned nationally for his sports-themed paintings, especially portraits of athletes. His artwork was printed on the covers of the Pittsburg State University football team and three covers for the NCCA Basketball Championship program. Watts was inducted into the PSU Hall of Fame in 1999.  

His career includes approximately 1,250 illustrations for magazines, books, gameday programs and media guides along with 1,500 paintings and portraits. Watts passed away in 2015 at the age of 72 leaving 95 limited edition art prints and 600 posters and calendars in history. Watts was named a Distinguished Kansas Sportsman by the Kansas Ports Hall of Fame in 2013 and he is the only artist who created portraits of all 77 Heisman Trophy winners. Watts clients included the U.S. Olympic Committee, the NCAA and more than 150 colleges and universities.  

The virtual exhibit counts with many gameday program covers created for college sports teams across the country, as well as other art made by Watts. It may be accessed by the university’s Digital Commons (https://digitalcommons.pittstate.edu/watts). 

“All of the pictures were scanned on a high resolution of 800 dpi in order to be stored at the digital commons at a high resolution,” Mauk said.  

The in-person exhibit is open for the public in Special Collections & University Archives located at the lower level of Axe Library at PSU. It is available for the public Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. University health and safety guidelines are expected to be followed.  

The exhibit event is in lieu of the 23rd Annual Gene DeGruson Memorial Lecture held every year since 1998. DeGruson was the original curator of Special Collection and University Archives. He suddenly died in 1997 and the event is held in his honor. Watts and DeGruson were business partners and friends who formed The Little Balkans Foundation. The foundation is a non-profit organization composed of residents of the Pittsburg area. The Association was created to educate the general public about the roots and evolution of the word “Little Balkans,” frequently used in political and cultural discussions of the role of Southeast Kansas in the state. The foundation also published the Little Balkans Review in the 1980s, and some issues in the 1990s and 2000s with the main goal to highlight the history and the arts of southeast Kansas region.  

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